Sniper 3 (2004) Review
Sniper 3 was directed by P.J. Pesce (Body Waves, Lost Boys: The Tribe), written by J.S. Cardone (Alien Hunter, Shadowhunter) and Ross Helford (Wild Things 2, Single White Female 2), and stars Tom Berenger (Sniper 2, The Desperate Riders), Byron Mann (Skyscraper, Wu Assassins), John Doman (Gotham, Person of Interest), Jeannetta Arnette (Head of the Class, Angels in Stardust), Ken Streutker (MW, Full Love), and Denis Arndt (Undisputed, Distant Thunder). It follows a veteran sniper as he’s sent to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam to kill a drug dealer who is more than just a faceless target; a mission that’s more than what it seems.
The Plot: It’s rare for a movie to be set in Vietnam but not in the Vietnam War; an interesting setting bodes well for the third entry in the Sniper franchise, but the threequel doesn’t do much differently than many action movies of the time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since Sniper 3 is concise and sturdily executed from a story perspective.
Back in the Marine Corps, MGySgt Beckett (Berenger) is taking leave to visit his deceased friend’s widow Sydney (Arnette) and his son Neil (Streutker) on his wedding day where he finds out from Sydney that he’s got nerve damage to his hand thanks to the loss of his trigger finger. Despite this, the NSA wants him to take on another mission. Agency director Avery (Arndt) tells Beckett that his old friend Paul (Doman) is evidently still alive and acting as a drug dealer in Vietnam, and the agency wants him dead. The reveal isn’t a particularly revelatory one since Paul’s family are the only people shown for longer than a minute before this point.
Naturally, Beckett accepts the assignment and is paired with local police officer Quan (Mann) for the mission. The setup is similar to the previous entries but holds more weight than either of them because of the personal connection. Mimicry of the first two is apparent but there’s more to discover along the way, as Beckett at first fails to complete his mission (a bigger surprise than what’s in store) and decides to dig deeper after meeting with Paul for a short time.
It goes where many have gone before, but Cardone and Helford’s script is far more involving than taking out a generic warlord, making use of the crossroads America and Vietnam met at to make the relatively familiar framework a step above average.
The Characters: Sniper 3 tries to add where number two stayed stagnant, making small developments for Beckett that are not always successful, and thanks to the way the story plays out, not always possible, but something is better than nothing.
Beckett, on top of retaining the same traits (distrust of non-military government branches, a gruff attitude, and a preference for being a loner), is now dealing with alcoholism since his wartime memories have come back to haunt him. This PTSD element is the one that falls a bit flat since the post-traumatic stress wasn’t present in Snipers one or two, making it feel as though it came from nowhere.
What doesn’t fail is the added emotion that comes with this, as well as being assigned to kill his old friend whose family he still communicates with, which is seemingly the only group of people he remains in contact with. Beckett is more fleshed out, which is how it should be.
Said family members aren’t well-rounded characters, with Neil only existing to get Beckett to visit Sydney and to give an extrinsic motivation to kill Paul because the father’s alias as “the Cobra” could give way and ruin the family’s reputation if it happens. Whereas Beckett thinks of Sydney as a friend, she thinks of him as a potential boyfriend or wife. Pushing for a romantic connection in movies like this is generally a bad idea, but it works here since their relationship is longstanding. Again, nothing complex, but it works.
Other characters like Quan and the government men are mostly blank, but fortunately, Paul isn’t. Through flashbacks, we see that he saved Beckett’s life during the fall of Saigon, and we come to understand that he’s just a junkie, revelling in the grime and trying to block out his memories of his family. Sniper 3’s characters are fine, but Beckett is the real draw here.
The Thrills: Espionage and assassinations have been key elements of the Sniper series for its first outings, but here, the writers try to focus on them more than the thrill of a one-shot kill. They couldn’t come up with anything new, but they have a solid grasp on how to make the motions palatable and sometimes genuinely exciting as they go through them.
Watching Beckett prepare to take out his target in this setting is more reminiscent of Miller’s beginnings during the first movie, as Beckett struggles to pull the trigger because of his debt to Paul. Seeing the character who has had no hesitations about taking out anyone else stall and eventually fail is striking, and the ensuing chaos from his missed shot is expected, but him ending up in jail for a brief stint isn’t. Pesce packs the sequence with tension and bursts of violence, bringing back the importance of a single shot.
Both men are able to get out of prison, and the ensuing tracking Beckett and Quan do to find Paul is decent, although a bit contrived. While the ex-partners were right across from each other, Paul lets some details about his location slip for no reason other than to get Beckett to follow closely behind. Thankfully the destination serves better as it brings them back to the rural outskirts of the city, where they survived thanks to “rat tunnels” just beneath the surface.
A lot of the second half of Sniper 3 takes place here but these sequences do begin to lose their luster with repetitive near misses, but the threat of Paul utilizing his men and his own skills from time in combat is never lost. It’s the finale that disappoints; it shows the battle between the military men well, but the reveals and the wrap-up are fast and unrewarding, unlike the rest of the movie’s moments of tension.
The Technics: Stretching a budget is much easier when filming in a country that offers good tax breaks or other financial incentives. Pesce and the crew got a good value for their money here, as Sniper 3 benefits from location shoots that sell the setting with ease, even if some of the decision-making can leave a bit to be desired.
Thailand is geographically similar to Vietnam, and the scenes set inside buildings or on rooftops create a terrific sense of place, however, the transitions and outdoor scenes can’t hide the fact that the countries are different in other ways. Signs, labels, and doors are all littered with Thai characters, not Vietnamese and English. Some may not notice this, but the occasional obvious stunt double and slightly off visual effects should be easy to spot.
Some choices in post-production are a bit weak, such as the lack of subtitles when characters speak in non-English, which doesn’t add any mystery since the conversations are only between them, and some overedited moments during the action don’t serve to ramp up tension or style. Sniper 3 is competently made as far as cinematography, sound design, mixing, and pyrotechnics go, with the bells and whistles of the mid-2000s.
Like the first two, Sniper 3 doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but the crew did construct a tight retelling of a familiar story led by Tom Berenger in another strong performance. If I’m honest, this one (barely) edges out the first movie from an objective stance.